Editor’s Note: The Winchester Family Business is happy to share with you this account of a first time con-goers observations of ChiCon14. We are even more pleased that this guest writer can give us a male’s perspective of the convention’s activities! As an added bonus, he shares a few insights from the Meet and Greet session with Julian Richings and Gil McKinney. Enjoy!
A couple of years ago, Nightsky wrote an article for The Winchester Family Business which described her journey into the Supernatural fandom and her experiences at her first convention. I had the opportunity to attend my first convention recently (ChiCon) so I thought I would provide a guy’s perspective of becoming a fan and going to a Supernatural con. I am not a Dean fan or a Sam fan, but I am most certainly an Impala fan – I had a ’67 Impala in my youth. A lot less chrome than the Winchester’s chariot and a great deal more rust, but still a classic. As an aside, if any viewer has ever questioned if that trunk could really hold duffel bags of the boys’ clothes, a wide assortment of weapons and still have room for multiple demons, I can categorically affirm the trunk really is that big!
My wife has been an avid fan of the show for a few years…so much so that I decided I needed to watch the show in order to spend time with her. The early seasons’ shows were not particularly deep, but they were very entertaining. Two guys and a great car on a constant road trip eating greasy burgers, drinking beer and “offing” the weekly monster or demon. I could watch that.
As we watched the successive seasons’ episodes (the benefits of binge watching) it quickly transformed from a “monster of the week” show to a story about two brothers who quite literally would go to hell and back (multiple times) for each other. A story with depth, complex supporting characters, interesting lighting and cinematography, generally great writing (perhaps not so much for season 7) and hotels with amazing décor next to every Gas-n-Sip in the United States. What’s not to enjoy?
As is very common at the cons, my wife made many new friends once she entered the fandom and attended her first con. One of these new friends needed help selling merchandise at a vendor table at ChiCon14. In exchange for selling her wares all weekend, the helpers were given a general admission ticket they could use to see the panels. Since my wife already had a ticket to ChiCon14, I volunteered to become a marketer so I could attend the con with her on the cheap. After many post-con discussions with my wife, I was really looking forward to getting my own perspective on the entire convention experience and who and what kind of people make up the fandom.
My birthday was coming up, so to make my first con particularly memorable my wife purchased a ticket for me for the meet-and-greet session with Gil McKinney and Julian Richings. Although I certainly enjoy Sam and Dean, I think my favorite characters from the show are the Trickster, Bobby, Charlie and Crowley, but most of all Death. So the meet and greet was a great treat for me, although I didn’t know if there was any hidden meaning in my wife making an appointment for me to meet “Death”!
The Chicago con was in a new and much larger venue this year. The main room seated 2,800. During the con, the organizers said it was the largest Supernatural convention ever. As is usual, the con kicked off with Richard Speight, Jr. ably accompanied by Rob Benedict and the Elastic Waist Band (also known as Louden Swain). In typical practice as I understand it, Richard showed he had more energy than the Energizer Bunny after 6 cups of coffee. He was lively and entertaining and warmed up the fans (who were all pretty excited to be at the con and didn’t really need much warming up!)
Panel discussions followed with Rob Benedict and Gil McKinney. Both conveyed their sincere gratitude to the fans for their support. Rob specifically mentioned how much the fans have meant to him following his stroke at a con about a year ago. Gil thanked the fans for their continued encouragement to resume singing as part of his “entertainment package.”
After these initial panels (or was it before? I was pretty overwhelmed at this point) were the first meet-and-greets – including my birthday present! There were only 8 fans at my meeting with Julian and Gil. We each picked a number out of a bag to determine where we would sit at a round table. As luck would have it, I ended up sitting by Julian and got to shake the hand of “Death” (I fared better than those who shook his character’s hand on the show!)! My wife had warned me to think of questions for the actors ahead of the session. This forethought allows each fan to be prepared to interact with the actors, but frankly, of more importance to me, kept me from feeling like an idiot trying to come up with something at the last minute!
Meeting my colleagues in the meet-and-greet room gave me my first view into the Supernatural fandom. One person was from out of the country. A second person was a seasoned veteran of Supernatural cons. Gil asked if there were any con first timers. My hand was the only one raised. A man shook my hand and said, “Welcome to the family.” It seems I had just progressed from the uninitiated to an official fan.
When it was my turn to ask a question, I asked Julian if he prepared for the role of Death differently since viewers might have specific beliefs or perceptions on what the character of death should be like. He said this role, like many others he has had, was one in which the character was “dropped” into a story for what was expected to be just one or two episodes. Julian said he might not get a final script for a character until just a few days before filming, so the short lead-time doesn’t lend itself to detailed character analysis beforehand. He said you just have to go on your instincts and what is in the script, coupled with input by the Director and Producer.
As an answer to another fan’s question, Julian said that although he has been acting for “many years” and has a very recognizable face (“unattractive and long, i.e. tall, with a big nose”), like the vast majority of actors, he has to audition for every job. In fact for Supernatural, he auditioned for a different horseman, but thankfully ended up as Death. Gil echoed the challenge that actors must constantly audition for roles, most of which do not lead to jobs. I also asked Gil if he had any opportunities to bring his great singing voice into any characters he has portrayed. He said it was going to the cons that really refreshed his interest in singing as an element of his acting portfolio. Sadly, he hadn’t had much opportunity beyond the cons, in part due to his schedule, but he also reflected that living in Los Angeles, there really isn’t much of a need for actors who can sing. Once he came to this realization, he decided to go to New York in 2015 to “spend some time.” The meet and greet session went amazingly quickly with these two very genuine and personable individuals whose characters contributed significantly to the depth and breadth of the series.
Julian’s panel was next back in the main hall. Being from England, Julian said he wanted us to sing an English song, so we sang “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean” (Google the lyrics if you don’t know it). I thought that was a bit odd, but OK. Once we got through it acceptably, he added a challenging wrinkle – sing the song again but each time you sing a word with a “B” you alternately stand up or sit down. Of course he sped up the song as well just to add to the degree of difficulty! Instead to standing up or sitting down, I thought that would have made a short but interesting drinking game!
Osric was next, although he was a bit delayed in getting to the stage on time, which prompted Richard and Rob to create a spur of the moment song, “Where’s Osric”. A few minutes later, a Pokemon video started, during which Pikachu was injured in a battle. Lauren Tom then appeared on stage dressed as Pikachu, followed immediately by Osric wearing a nurse’s outfit. The nurse treated and healed Pikachu, which was good otherwise the panel would have been a bit one sided. I understand that unusual costuming for Osric is the norm, but it still caught me a bit off guard. Some good questions were asked, mixed in with some that were a bit odd, but for each, Osric and Lauren answered the questions thoughtfully, making each attendee feel special.
As I said at the beginning, I volunteered to help at a vendor booth as “payment” for the general admission ticket. The vendor tables were immediately outside the main hall, so attendees would walk by my table every time they went in or out of the panels. Although I was legitimately working as I explained our merchandise to curious attendees, my position also gave me a special opportunity to talk to many, many fans over the weekend. In addition to the sales pitch, I would often ask if this was their first con and what their impressions were of both the con and the fandom. After three days, I got a sense of the “typical” Supernatural fan. I’ll keep you in suspense until the end of this article to give you my conclusions.
Osric and Lauren’s panel was the last of the day, but autographs and photo ops began and ran until “Dick and Matt’s Excellent Karaoke Adventure 80’s Themed Party”. Karaoke consisted of great music, including some of Louden Swain’s own pieces and many songs that you would likely have heard on the AM radio in the Impala. We had the pleasure of hearing Gil’s great voice – he really should have an opportunity to share that gift with others. There was also very loud audience participation on a particular song from the musical group Kansas (I have to believe the group’s residuals on that song significantly increased after this show started.) We left around 12:30 a.m., but the party was still going strong. Really fun.
The start of Day 2 and I was already tired. Oh boy!
Attendees obviously rallied to the main hall for the panels, but outside these times, everyone had to carefully read and re-read the program to make sure they got to the right autograph line, photo op line, meet and greet room, etc. (all at the correct time), make sure they were back in time for all the important panels and still find time to talk to me in the vendor booth! Oh, by the way Creation Entertainment, programs with 6 point font – really?
Day two started in the main hall, again with your host, Richard. As he did on Friday, he sang a song about “rules and regulations”. The song’s lyrics clearly stated that you can’t video any of the panels or other activities. So that people clearly were aware of this rule, he had a fan come up on stage and video him singing the song! He also told those in the audience to make sure that their clearly illicit videos were in focus so he looked good on Facebook or Twitter. At the conclusion I wasn’t really sure if they did or did not want videos, but they obviously were resigned to the fact that videos were going to be taken!
Richard’s introduction was followed by Osric and Gil’s panel, then a panel with Tahmoh Penikett. Again, there were good and not so good questions, but they were always answered with sincerity by the actors. Autographs, photo ops and meet and greets were next. Somewhere in there we tried to wolf down some lunch, as I was coming to understand we all needed to keep up our strength at a con.
Next up, another one of my favorites – Crowley. Mark ran his panel somewhat differently that those before. He did answer many questions, but he had no problem cutting off fans or telling them to speak up, and if they didn’t he would yell “NEXT” and move on. He even told a few that they didn’t have a good question, so in general he was acting a bit snarky! He moved through the hall talking to people at the front and back of the auditorium. Mark stopped in the middle of the hall and complimented a fan who was wearing virtually perfect Crowley attire. Mark also disparaged those individuals in the question line who were wearing Castiel look-alike clothing. One question prompted Mark to say he was likely the only SuperWhoLock in the room which brought a large round of applause. One fan asked about Mark’s father. I was unaware that Mark’s father is another well known character actor who I have always enjoyed – William Morgan Sheppard. So Mark was entertaining and educational.
After Mark were a few hours for those other individual activities you had to organize for yourself, which meant I had another great opportunity to meet and talk to fans – and repeat my marketing spiel many, many times!
Richard, Matt, and Rob were back on next, in part to again warm up the audience for the next fan favorite – Misha Collins. During Richard, Matt and Rob’s panel, fans started lining up on each side of the hall to ask Misha questions. The vast majority of these fans were wearing tan trench coats! Misha returned to the panel approach of genuinely answering each fan’s question. One question in particular really rattled Misha. A fan commented on Misha’s frequent use of “uh” during conversation. The occasional uh, or um, or ah, is all too common for most people, but Misha is not most people. He was really flustered for the rest of the panel as he very consciously tried to talk without using the horrible “uh”. He got through the panel, but not without uttering a couple of expletives when he unconsciously repeated an “uh”. I don’t think the fans minded his go-to speech crutch– but Misha certainly did.
After Misha there was more mixing and matching of various program activities which meant more fans talking to me in my vendor booth. Oh yes, and a chance for dinner – again, have to keep your strength up.
Saturday Night’s special event was the Cabaret. The cabaret included Louden Swain with guest appearances by Misha, Mark (on drums), Richard, Matt, Gil, Tahmoh and Osric. Great music by Louden Swain, great singing by Gil and great fun for all – and another late night at the con.
Then it was Sunday and JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ Day!
The day started with a J&J panel for gold ticket holders only. As my vendor table was just outside the main hall, I occasionally heard voices, but that was about all I could hear as I continued the interaction with even more energetic fans. The main hall opened for general admission at 11:55 a.m., yet the line for general admission entry started around 9 a.m. By the time the hall opened, the line was well into the hotel. I guess that makes sense as J day was the big payoff for most attendees.
Richard again started the day, soon followed by Colin Ford (young Sam Winchester). Colin was at his first Supernatural con and was very charming. He certainly caught the eye of some of the younger attendees.
Then they came! Jensen and Jared took the stage – and took is the right word – their presence commanded the stage. They were very kind and humorous, they bantered with the fans and with each other. Jared wore a salmon colored shirt and scarf that Jensen definitely would not have worn. One fan asked that if the Impala weren’t black, what would be the worst color it could be. Jensen pointed to the scarf and said “that color of pink”. To me they truly acted as brothers. A great session – clearly enjoyed by all.
After the J’s panel you would think the con would be over, but there was still more to come. A final panel session with a new con attendee, Curtis Armstrong (Metatron), was scheduled for late in the day. Frankly, I so dislike Metatron that I didn’t care if I saw Curtis’ panel or not. I did sit in, however, and I am glad that I did. Curtis has also had a long and noteworthy acting career with a number of television shows I have enjoyed. One fan asked him how he felt about portraying a character so uniformly disliked. He said, “Once you got used to the hate emails, I take it as a compliment.” He further explained that as a character actor, your hope is to portray a role in a believable manner. If you do that and the fans believe the character, that is the highest compliment for an actor. So he takes the fan dislike as an affirmation of his acting abilities. I ended the panel still disliking Metatron, but Curtis was growing on me.
After Curtis’ panel there were still photo ops, autographs, and a last meet and greet. After all that was done, fewer than 100 people remained in the main hall. Most of the band equipment had already been removed from the stage. We were starting to walk out when Jensen and Jared returned to the stage. They wanted to thank the fans again for their support for the show, and more importantly for support to each of them personally. They certainly didn’t have to come back out, as they already had a long day of entertaining and showing each of the hundreds of fans that got to spend a few brief but exhilarating moments with them the same individual attention. The fact that they did come out one more time, however, speaks volumes about the character of these two actors and the unique and special relationship they have with the fandom.
So, what did I learn about the fans and from my three day immersion into fandom? Well as to the fans, there isn’t an “average fan”. They are all shapes, sizes and colors. English may or may not be their first language. I spoke to individuals who hadn’t completed high school and individuals with multiple PhDs. I spoke to people who had been the “cool kids” and many that most definitely were not. I spoke to an individual that had been in fandoms for decades (starting with the original Star Trek series) and those attending their first con.
I did, however, find more commonality to the fandom. All of these different non-average individuals came together with a common acceptance and welcoming of each other. I saw a girl in tears because she was given a ticket to a sold out photo-op from a person she had never met. I saw many people alone and a bit apprehensive on day one, laughing in groups on the last day. I think the fandom was exemplified by an individual with a significant physical challenge with whom I had the opportunity to chat. This was the first con for this individual, and when I asked what they thought about the convention and the fandom the individual simply said, “I’ve found my people.”
So what was the common element for those attending ChiCon? Simple. A common love for a very long running television show with two brothers who live for each other, occasionally fight with each other, labor to help others in spite of their human frailties, and travel this great country in a classic car. I get it…
Carry on wayward son.
By the way, my wife who got me to attend ChiCon with her? You know her as Nightsky.